You’ve come up with the perfect idea for a new company or product. You’ve done all the research and written up all the plans - you might have even taken the time to create a startup pitch deck. You’re completely confident of success.
For most entrepreneurs, all this is true, right up to the moment they step into the office of a potential investor to pitch their idea, which is where the vast majority of them turn into a quivering blob of jelly.
Your knees knock together, mouth goes dry, heart rate clocks off the chart, and you’re sweating from places you didn’t even know existed until now. The worst part is that the more obvious these symptoms become, the worse they start to affect you.
This is because you’re conscious of those symptoms and how they are affecting your performance, you get embarrassed, and the whole cycle of disaster repeats. I don’t want this to happen to you the next time you go to pitch.
I have no idea whether your idea is the greatest one since Madonna started wearing clothes again, or if it is a total flop, but I believe you at least deserve to be heard. Who knows how many great products, services, and entertainments have been lost forever simply because somebody fluffed the pitch and didn’t have the courage to put themselves through the humiliating ordeal again?
Let me assure you, there is nothing to fear. Investors want something to invest in. That’s why they are called investors. If they happen not to support your idea, it’s not the end of the world. There are other investors out there. So what are you so afraid of?
I think I understand it. When you have a really great idea and you believe in it strongly enough, it becomes a part of you. If somebody rejects the idea, it’s also a rejection of yourself, and nobody likes rejection. Rejection is oozy and clammy. It smells like sweat and vomit. It’s something everyone is secretly afraid of, whether they admit it or not.
Bravery is not about not being afraid; it is about pressing on regardless of fear. It’s about being able to see what lies beyond the fear and doing what it takes to get there, beyond fear.
I’d also like to say that when one day, after you’ve achieved great success, and you’re now in the position of investor or philanthropist yourself, spare a thought for the poor fellow trembling like a leaf before you, and do what you can to comfort him or her.
If you don’t give them a fair chance, you may just be missing out on the greatest project since Edmund Hillary got fed up waiting in line for the ski lift.
1. Know It All
What is often intended as an insult—"Know It All"—suddenly becomes the greatest compliment anyone could pay you. Because being a "Know It All" is actually a great attribute to possess when you’re trying to sell anything.
In this case, you’re trying to sell an idea, but the principle is the same no matter what you’re selling. The more you can tell the buyer about the product (which, in this case, is you and your idea), the more likely it is that they will listen.
When you know what you’re talking about, and it’s obvious you know what you’re talking about, it establishes trust. Even if the prospective investor challenges you or seems skeptical, they may just be testing to see if you are sincere. So just invisibly grit your teeth at any rude interruptions, answer questions calmly, accurately and politely, then move on.
To get this part of the pitch perfect, means you really do have to know everything. If you turn up without having done your research into every possible aspect, including negative possibilities, they will eat you alive and then have the bare faced cheek to complain about the taste!
You must be prepared. Have all the information readily at hand. Be so familiar with your idea that you can answer any question about it. Also, remember to research anything similar that exists so you can use it as a comparison and fend off negativity.
2. Practice, Practice, Practice
That’s not just the way to get to Carnegie Hall; it’s also an essential step in preparing for your big pitch. You should practice your opening and closing pitches over and over until you can recite them perfectly. In your sleep.
But you need to do more than that. Assemble a panel of trusted cronies to grill you on everything related to what you’re pitching. Instruct them to be ruthless. Repeat this process over and over again for as long as you can, to make sure that you become an expert at answering awkward and tough questions.
It will also help you immensely to find some place that will allow you opportunities to practice public speaking. Or try stand-up comedy... there’s no better way to run the gauntlet of humiliation than to make a complete fool of yourself in front of people who are expecting you to do just that.
This could give you the courage to maintain your composure no matter what the investors throw at you, because nothing they do can compare to the viciousness of a stand-up comedy audience.
3. Dress for Success
Sorry to lay a tired old cliché on you, but this is an important one. I feel bad that I have to do it, but an amazing number of people turn up to their pitch meetings looking like Bob the Builder, when they are not in fact builders. That won’t fly, and you can mutter to yourself "We can fix it!" as much as you like, it won’t help.
First impressions really do count. Make sure you look like you eat diamonds for breakfast and only use gold-threaded toilet paper for dealing with the other end of that process. Unless you’re pitching for a charity, of course! But you get what I mean. How you present yourself is just as important as the idea you are presenting.
If you don’t present yourself well, there’s a good chance nobody is listening to what you’re saying... they are too busy thinking about the fact that you’ve turned up looking like you’ve been having an affair with Tom Baker’s former wardrobe assistant.
4. Leave Nothing Behind
I am always amazed how many people turn up to an investment pitch, or any other important engagement, and don’t bring everything they need. I mean everything!
So you see some poor schlub front up in Judge Judy’s courtroom and they’ve forgotten to bring a copy of their lease, or a receipt, or photographic evidence to support their claim, and they immediately get shot down with "What?! Where did you think you were coming today?" followed by an interesting suggestion such as the zoo, the circus, or a tea party.
Don’t be that guy! Bring every possible bit of documentation, every prop, every single item that can help support your case. Few things can do more damage than saying "Uh... I guess I forgot to bring my prototype!"
What it shows is that you lack organization skills, and even worse, the investor can see it as a lack of respect. If you can’t be bothered to prepare yourself properly for the meeting, it can be taken that you don’t think the meeting is important enough for you to spend the time to prepare properly for it.
Then the investor may then think your project isn’t important enough for them to put money into.
5. Don't Fidget
Yep, you’re a bit nervous. That’s fine. Take your time... No, not that much time!
You have to do something to eliminate nervousness from your system. Channel that energy. Make it work for you instead of against you. If you do things like fidgeting, shuffling papers, or swaying from side to side like a hypnotized elephant, it can create a distraction.
When those listening to you are distracted by your physical movements, your message loses some of its effectiveness.
So you need to really work on developing a mindset where you don’t believe you can fail, and you don’t care if you do. Instead of focusing on failure, focus on success. Focus on the passion you have for what you are pitching and summon that energy. Your nervousness will disappear if you force your mind to think about what you are doing and saying instead of thinking about how the audience is receiving your words.
If you have a great idea, then it’s a great idea. Present that. If the idea is truly great, and your audience doesn’t appreciate it, then that’s their loss, not yours. You can find somebody else with the common sense to see a great idea for what it really is.
6. Keep it Interesting
When some people talk about business, it can be really boring. More boring than a catfight between Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. I mean, who would want to see that?
You have to keep your presentation interesting. If don’t think you’re very good at that, and if you can afford it, you may even want to consider outsourcing the pitch to a professional speaker. Just make sure that you’re there, and make sure it’s clear that the person making the pitch has been hired especially to do that job. It doesn’t show you are weak; it shows you are good at delegating and planning.
You can do this. You’re the genius who thought up this great idea. Now, why wouldn’t you be able to pull off something much easier, which is to explain that great idea to others?
The important thing is never to give up as long as you know the idea you have has merit. That’s not to say you shouldn’t listen to the advice of others if they point out a flaw in your plan. If somebody does that, and it’s a valid point, thank them!
Then you work out how to overcome that flaw, or ask the advice of your critic for what they think you can do to overcome that flaw, and you still have a chance of winning. Great entrepreneurship involves the ability to adapt and make changes with changing circumstances, responding in an appropriate way to whatever troubles may arise.
When you know your idea is perfect, you have no reason to fear. Just keep trying because you will eventually meet the right person in the right place, and then your persistence will pay off.